Managing Your Cash Flow

British consumers are buying their christmas gifts early

8 min read

08 November 2018

Reporter, Real Business

British consumers are buying their christmas gifts earlier each year, how can retailers maintain interest?

The news is out. A significant number of British consumers have already bought their Christmas presents, – and it’s only early November.

According to statistics compiled by the BBC, taken from a report conducted by the Centre for Retail Research, 18% of Britons had completed their festive shopping by the end of October.

More shocking still, some shoppers started, and finished even earlier, – with the findings revealing that a significant 11% of us started our Christmas shopping in September.

But before British retailers get all nervous, and think that a huge cultural change is underfoot, it’s not.

UK shoppers are looking to save money

Well, actually maybe it kind of is. The reason consumers are shopping earlier is not that they’re sick of the wintery shopping vibes that go along with the traditional Christmas season, it’s because they’re trying to save money, and retailers should be open to that.

So, let’s take a look at the UK’s new Christmas spending habits compared to the other major economies in mainland Europe:

The UK compared to europe

Sept-earlier October  November  December 
UK 11% 18% 32% 39%
France  6% 5% 16% 73%
Germany  7% 14% 30% 49%
Italy  2% 9% 19% 70%

 
Clearly, there’s a big shift in British festive spending compared to Europe, it’s being done increasingly early.

So how should British retailers be responding to this change?

This change affects both online and store-based retailers

The change in HOW British consumers shop for Christmas must not fail on deaf ears should retailers (both online and store based) want to do well this season, and next Christmas too.

Each year, we hear about the increasingly poor performance of retail each Christmas. Christmas 2016 and 2017 saw big retail names such as Debenhams and Marks & Spencer perform badly. But the recent consumer spending change affects online retailers just as much, and if they don’t introduce sales earlier in the year, they’ll do just as badly as the high-street over Christmas.

“Savvy shoppers seem to be planning ahead, taking advantage of flash sales and the wealth of ways to save, including discount sites and vouchers,”– Jimmy New, VoucherCodes.co.uk

So it’s time for all retailers great and small, and online and in-store to make ensure they engage with consumers over the earlier Christmas shopping trend and introduce saving based deals as the Christmas season approaches.

“Everyone wants to give their children a Christmas to remember but finding the money to do so is not always easy with the pressures on family finances.”– Matt Bland, Association of British Credit Unions

Retailers must remember that Christmas is often a financially stressful time for many spenders, and they’re going to go for the best savings, even if it means avoiding the Christmas cheer of ‘last-minute’ festive shopping trips to do it.

November is the ‘new’ christmas

New shopping trends have made their way across the Atlantic to influence UK spending habits running up to Christmas.

Retail ‘events’ such as Black Friday (November 23) and Cyber Monday (November 26) mean that consumers can get their Christmas savings earlier than ever before.

With the advent of these new ‘spending holidays’, why should consumers wait for the December season and all the associated price hikes to buy their Christmas presents?

A family-run SME responds to the change…

One Manchester based SME rising to the new Christmas shopping challenge is PJ Howarth butchers.

Understanding that British consumers spend a fortune on food retail products ( an estimated £22bn last year according to the BBC), they have introduced a ‘payment scheme’ for their customers, meaning that they can spread the costs of the food spend over a longer time period.

“It’s popular. Next year I want to expand it to a general loyalty scheme so families can save and spread costs all year round. They can’t do that at a big supermarket.”– Jon Howarth, – owner, PJ Howarth butchers

What can other SMEs do?

It’s clear that retail-based SMEs both online, and store-based, have two options on how to respond to this change in consumer spending pre-Christmas.

They must engage with these changing trends and either:

1. Introduce pre-Christmas retail deals earlier, and in sync with the autumnal months in which consumers are most likely to buy their gifts (September-October/November)

2. Or..introduce promotional and supportive measures during the ‘traditional’ shopping season (December)

If you’re a food retailer, such as the fresh produce butcher business above, your ‘stock cannot be bought months in advance for obvious reasons.

So, your only option is to implement supportive measures such as payment schemes and extra deals to encourage consumers to buy your products rather than going to big supermarkets just before Christmas.

However, if your products are NOT  ‘time-sensitive’ and can be bought at ANY time, be reactive to the increased popularity of Christmas spending in autumn and introduce relevant ‘Christmas savings’ stock then.

You can then do an additional drive at the usual December time, but introduce the kinds of deals you may usually have reserved for the January sales.

Engage with the change, or try to change it, or do both:

For non-food retailers, you can try and change consumer habits by upping your marketing and advertising next year. Start by making it clear that you’ll be introducing deals and savings in your products in December to try and shift this spending trend back to December instead of autumn.

Or as before mentioned, you can try and engage with this change and do a two-pronged savings and support approach, one in autumn (savings based), and one just before Christmas (schemes to support consumers with the burdens of festive spending), to ensure you’re not left with Christmas stock on the shelves in January 2019.

Learn the lessons and prepare for Christmas 2019

It’s too late to revise your approach to autumnal spending habits this year. However, you can use these statistics to prepare better for next year.

Ultimately, you have to remember that consumers are increasingly nervous about overspending at Christmas. Especially in light of a possible ‘no deal’ Brexit, the probable hit the economy’s going to take must be taken into consideration, including the risks to jobs and property prices. This will mean that people want to save on spending where they can.